Filmsite Movie Review
Beyond the Forest (1949)
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Beyond the Forest (1949) is a melodramatic, far-fetched high-camp classic and also a fine example of film noir from director King Vidor, with an impressive bombastic, Oscar-nominated musical score by Max Steiner - the film's sole Academy Award nod. The overwrought film is best known for one famous line of dialogue, and for being Bette Davis' last contract film for Warner Bros after 18 years with the studio.

The lurid, excessive and semi-vulgar film for its time was a major box-office flop, but has since become an indelible reminder of its time period - and the desperation of an American domestic housewife following the war who had everything (a fine house and pleasant husband), but felt constrained and wanted so much more. She had a striking 'unwomanly' disregard for and rejection of conventional marriage and family - the patriarchal point-of-view.

The actress Bette Davis (in her mid-career at the age of 40) was miscast in the film as the young, beautiful and dissatisfied sexpot, playing one of the baddest, no-good, trashiest, and most warped of all femme fatales as she schemed and murdered to escape her oppressive small-town roots and get out of her stultifying marriage. Her vicious portrayal often came close to being a caricature, with low-cut blouses, terrible makeup, and hip-moving swaggering. The film's poster tagline took advantage of that fact in its splashy advertisements:

Nobody's as good as Bette when she's bad!

The film had troubles from its inception when the Breen Production Code censors warned that Warner Bros.' purchase of the 1945 Stuart Engstrand novel (in manuscript form) would lead to trouble, since it was a story of lust, infidelity, adultery, calculated unpleasantness, cruelty and even murder (both as a cover-up and also in the act of attempting to kill an unborn child). Although in the ending, the evil, callous and monstrous female protagonist, doomed to a tragic end, received due compensation for her profligate ways, some felt it was not commensurate with the totality of her ghoulish wickedness.

Script modifications were made to present the original story as less debased and malicious, by changing the married status of the adulterous man (Latimer) to only engaged, by reducing the depiction of the 'affair,' and by non-sensically modifying the scene of a medical abortion (changed to a visit in an attorney's office).

The film was also condemned by the National League of Decency for its "sordid story" and its "morally dangerous" subject matter. It was ruled as morally offensive and "unfit entertainment for motion picture audiences."

Plot Synopsis

The film began with a scrolling warning title card:

This is the story of evil. Evil is headstrong - is puffed up. For our soul's sake, it is salutory for us to view it in all its ugly nakedness once in a while. Thus may we know how those who deliver themselves over to it end up like the Scorpion, in a mad frenzy stinging themselves to eternal death.

Background Introduction Provided by Off-Screen Narrator:

A narrator (Olan Soule) introduced the unappealing flavor of the empty, mostly deserted small lumber saw-mill town of Loyalton, Wisconsin, where the main factory spewed incinerator heat, smoke and sawdust ceaselessly:

(voice-over) The sawmill is the pulse and heartbeat of the town of Loyalton. The people wake to the scream of the whistle. Go to work by it, eat lunch by it, and start home by it. And at night if their bedrooms face the mill, they have to sleep with the shades down to close out the hot flow of the sawdust that comes from the incinerator lighting the sky, burning its way through closed eyelids, through sleep itself. Even the picture theater's closed.

Twice a day, the train to Chicago pulled into and out of the town's station (with blasts of its horn) - a tenuous lifeline to civilization. The midwestern town's only doctor - decent, saintly, and dull Dr. Lewis Moline (Joseph Cotten) had his office on the second floor of the bank building. His wife, the character of Rosa Moline (Bette Davis), would walk everyday to the station with "every man's admiring eye upon her" to stand and listen as the train spoke to her about escaping from the fevered, suffocating town:

"Come, Rosa, come away before it's too late. Chicago...Chicago...Chicago..."

Rosa - who was supposedly living in the "finest house" in town, had hired a high school-aged Indian (Native-American) servant girl-maid named Jenny (Mexican-American actress Dona Drake). The biggest distraction in the town was in progress at the courthouse, where Rosa was a suspect in a manslaughter case and faced a coroner's inquest. Rosa was the focus of gossipy women (and men) who all wondered about Rosa's life, according to the narrator: "What made her different from the rest of them? And the men on the jury, they wonder too."

Black-hearted, unattractive hag Rosa (Bette Davis) was first viewed when she lept up in the jammed and crowded courthouse and screamed out that she was innocent: "Why should I kill him? Someone tell me that! Why should I want to?" She was referring to an 'accidental' murder that occurred five months earlier. The film, in flashback, told the events that led up to Rosa's murder inquest, the context for her "evil" reputation, and everything that occurred before the murder.


Fishing Weekend Trip - An Opportunity For Rosa To Conduct A Continuing Affair:

The film opened with Rosa, her husband Dr. Moline, and family friend Moose Lawson (Minor Watson) on a weekend fishing trip. They were housed at Moose's smaller cabin on the grounds of the spacious Latimer Lodge (a luxurious hunting lodge-cabin with 20 rooms and 18 baths) where Moose was the caretaker for its owner. The overworked, selfless doctor was notified that one of his poor pregnant patients who already had a lot of children, Mildred Sorren (Sarah Selby), was about to deliver her baby in an emergency and he had to return to town early. Rosa faked an ankle injury to allow her to stay longer at the cabin. Rosa maneuvered to get reformed alcoholic Moose to drink from a hidden bottle of whiskey that she had secretly brought.

While sitting on the porch of the lodge, she shot and needlessly killed a porcupine in a tree (with a crack shot - an important plot point), prompting Moose to harshly criticize her. Rosa complained about how she longed for the excitement of big-city life and was desperate for wealth, while she was totally dissatisfied, bored, discontented, and feeling repressed by small town life in the mill-town:

Rosa: "I don't like porkies, they irritate me."
Moose: "You don't like life!"
Rosa: "Life in Loyalton is like sitting in a funeral parlor and waiting for the funeral to begin. No, not sitting. Lying in a coffin, and waiting for them to carry you out!"

After Rosa deliberately allowed Moose to get drunk (and become self-recriminating with regret for walking out on his family years earlier: "I left them alone. Absolutely alone"), he passed out. She grabbed the Master's Lodge key and raced over to the nearby Latimer Lodge to await the arrival of the lodge's owner (by private plane) - a vacationing wealthy Chicago industrialist/millionaire and tycoon named Neil Latimer (David Brian). Rosa's intent was to continue her illicit and erotic, yet adulterous love affair with Latimer. He responded to her quick availability: "You're terrific!" She quipped back: "You said that the first time, too." He implied that he couldn't admit his affair with her:

Anything I had to say to you, I wouldn't put on paper!...I don't need words.

As he leered down at her, she was eager to be pulled up into his arms from her supine position on her pillow, with an embrace and kiss.

After Dr. Moline delivered a baby boy for the Sorrens, it was clear that he let his poorest patients (with large families) who couldn't afford his services to suspend their payments to him, or offer household chores as collateral. He was already $187 dollars in debt himself to his local supplier of plasma ("warm blood") and penicillin for buying the life-saving substance to save the life of Mildred Sorren.

Back at the lodge, Rosa implied that her affair with Latimer was ongoing whenever he visited: "Here today and gone tomorrow." She had created situations in the past where she had fooled her husband and Moose in order to be with him. He directly asked her: "What's your game, Rosa? What do you want?" She replied bluntly: "You!" He responded with the obvious: "You're a married woman!" She snapped back: "You didn't make those millions by having scruples!" Her plan was to escape from Loyalton with him to Chicago, but he deflected and asked if she could make it outside of Loyalton on her own. He also was incredulous about her demands to be with him as a low-rent female, when he had the select pick of any Chicago society girl:

Rosa: "What as? A telephone girl? A stenographer, a waitress? You could get me out!"
Latimer: "Sure I could, but why should I?"
Rosa: "Because I'm the kind of woman you need!"
Latimer: "Rosa, you're a scream. Don't you know that half of the society dames in Chicago trot their daughters out for my inspection? Like fillies at a racetrack! Girls with beauty, breeding, accomplishments. Girls who've been places, speak languages."
Rosa: "Not yours!"
Latimer: "Maybe I want to learn theirs."
Rosa: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks. I want you to marry me." (He burst into uproarious laughter at her request, and she slapped him in the face. He grabbed her for a rough kiss.)

Rosa's Discontent With Married Life in Loyalton:

Once Rosa and Lewis met up in their home after the weekend, the trampy Rosa told her doctor husband as she walked down the stairs - filing her nails with an emery board, and looking around as she snarled - a most-famous line:

What a dump!

[Note: This line of dialogue would later reappear in the opening scene of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), delivered by Elizabeth Taylor, from Edward Albee's play of the same name. Earlier, it had appeared in Fallen Angel (1945) - as Dana Andrews' reference to a seedy San Francisco hotel.]

She was already desirous and dreaming of the good life with Latimer in Chicago, and couldn't bear further discontent in her humble abode. He retorted to her: "Don't start hating it till it's paid for!" She whipped around and replied: "To some men, $3,000 dollars is just peanuts." Rosa assumed that their maid Jenny had left something for him in the icebox for dinner, without offering to cook him something. On the porch, Rosa proclaimed that she felt out-of-place in the rural town:

"I don't want people to like me. Nothing pleases me more than when they don't like me. It means I don't belong."

Her milksop husband (drinking a glass of milk!) realized that she didn't care about his dedication to his work as a small-town doctor who saved the lives of common folk, especially when she sarcastically asked: "Saved her for what?" The dour and cynical Rosa answered him: "There's only one person in this town who does anybody a real favor, that's the undertaker. He carries them out." Lewis was tired of her downbeat resentment and anger: "Rosa, why do you torment yourself like this?...To hate everything so?" She replied that she despised her common life:

"Because it makes me feel alive!...It keeps me from getting soft and forgetting about all the things I really want."

He had enough of her talk and proceeded to go inside: "There's no use talking to you when you're like this. I'm going to bed." Rosa quipped almost humorously: "That's big news! Where else could you go?"

She stayed a while longer on the swinging porch couch to "cool off," but then moved to gaze up into the sky when she heard Latimer's plane departing overhead.

Rosa's Swaggering Visit to Town and the Train Station Before Returning Home:

The next day as she swaggered into town - and was "admired" or looked at aghast by some, Rosa sauntered over to the train station to wave at the engineer as the Chicago-bound train stopped momentarily. Without knowing the identity of a disembarking passenger, she spoke a few words with Moose's well-to-do, nicely-dressed daughter Carol Lawson (Ruth Roman) who was visiting from Chicago. She looked longingly at Carol's fur coat and her monogrammed luggage. Then, in the town's post office, she snidely told Mrs. Sorren who was cradling her newborn and surrounded by her large gaggle of children: "You certainly go in for mass production, don't you?" She expectantly opened up a letter from Chicago in her post-office box, but was disappointed that it was only an advertisement for maid-service: "Mutual Help For Your Loved Ones - Now!" - "In Drudgery or In Comfort? IT'S UP TO YOU - ACT NOW!" After Rosa left the lobby, Mrs. Sorren commented about Rosa being different from others:

Mrs. Sorren: "The funny thing, even when we were in high school, Rosa was always different from everybody else. Even the way she walked. Like she was someone special. It's hard on Rosa being tied to a town like this."
Mrs. Sorren's Friend: "Hmph! It's hard on the town."

Upon her return home, Rosa threatened to fire the slatternly and insolent Jenny who was chewing gum, acting lazily, and not wearing her maid's uniform. When Jenny replied defiantly, Rosa reprimanded her with a racist slur: "No red Indian's gonna talk to me like that in my own house." Rosa prophetically muttered under her breath as she stood on her outdoor porch in view of the lumber mill factory spewing fire and smoke: "If I don't get out of here, I'll die. If I don't get out of here, I hope I die. And burn!"

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